Container Gardening Ideas – Protecting Window Flower Boxes
Shelter Your Window Flower Boxes / Garden Containers from Weather Conditions
One of the main problems in caring for outdoor container plants is the effect of the wind, particularly with window flower boxes andon open balconies, as in a block of flats. Sometimes a shelter can be arranged with glass or transparent plastic panels, or trellis. The latter will provide excellent support for a winter jasmine, clematis, a summer rose, a vine, or a berrying cotoneaster, planted in a big tub or box. Such subjects give a country garden look, as well as helping to filter the wind. In late spring a windbreak of striped canvas or similar material can be fixed round the railings of a balcony or outside landing.
Containers in a high position dry out tremendously quickly, and special attention must be paid to watering, even in wet weather, for eaves and projecting balconies keep off a surprising amount of rain. Always choose the largest containers that can safely be accommodated, for the more compost they hold the less quickly they will dry out. Liberal top dressings of moisture-holding peat or leaf mould will help protect against drought.
In positions where watering really is difficult, choose plants which actually relish a dry root run. Succulents are often beautiful and make fine plants which colour well; a box of mixed kinds can look fantastic. But there are many other plants which stand up to exposure to sun and periods of drought. These include all the achilleas, sempervivums and sedums, agapanthus, gypsophila (including the dwarf varieties), dimorphotheca hybrids (daisy-like colourfulfrom South Africa), nepeta (catmint), lychnis flos Jovis (pretty pink campion), helianthemum (sun rose), and bergenia. There are also nasturtium, arabis, armeria (thrift), mesembryanthemum (Livingstone daisy), and many grey-leaved plants such as artemisias and Scenecio greyii (laxifolius), which I cut back hard in March to keep them small and bushy. You can grow all the yuccas well in appalling conditions of drought and none flag or sulk. If you are away a lot, avoid subjects which need regular attention, such as and begonias, unless you have self-watering containers or a very good neighbour who will take over.
I personally detest staked plants in containers; I tend to think that if stakes have to be used the wrong plant has been chosen in the first place. You may not agree with this. Container gardening is highly individual, and there is nothing to prevent your growing long-stemmed tulips andin windy window flower boxes complete with stakes or bits of bushy twigs to support them. But do try to keep the supports as unobtrusive as possible, like a friend of mine who uses old steel knitting needles painted green, with knitting wool for ties. If I do have to tie up climbers or other floppy plants, I prefer soft plastic ties to wire. A packet of darning wool goes a long way, and as this is not usually pure wool nowadays, it does not shrink and grip the stems too tightly. Bass or garden string is also good. Make a loop first round the stake, then lightly round the plant stem, then back round the stake and tie off.
Many plants, such as ordinary snapdragons, pelargoniums, and wallflowers make shorter and bushier plants, well filled with side shoots which flower profusely – ideal for– if the growing tips are pinched out when the plants are still quite young. This may seem like a waste of time to the new gardener. In fact, it coaxes shoots which would otherwise remain dormant, to break into growth. If, as sometimes occurs, one side shoot then grows away strongly, while others seem not to progress so well, pinch out the tip of the strong shoot once more. In these ways a sturdy and well-shaped plant results.
Anyone who has no frost-free place in which to keep them for the winter must sacrifice all tender-growing subjects at the end of the season. Otherwise, keep them free of frost and bring them into growth again in the early part of the year. Tuberous begonias and dahlias should be lifted, dried off at the end of the season, and stored carefully indoors until setting them to shoot beside a window in March.
Some so-called annuals can be overwintered if kept out of frost, and I have brought lobelia and petunias safely through the winter in my glazed porch. Frost strikes free-standing objects from all sides, so if no other protection can be arranged in the very hardest weather, it is wise to move any containers holding plants which might be vulnerable, such as ‘hardy’ fuchsias, into the shelter provided by the angle of two walls, a porch, or cover them with branches from an evergreen.
In the spring I often re-stock containers such as window flower boxes with plants lifted from a border and just coming into flower. They ‘get away’ more quickly than their fellows left behind in the border, quickly opening buds and displaying themselves like prima donnas. This may be because of the extra shelter afforded by the house walls. Similarly, garden containers sometimes seem to suit some plants better than direct planting in the garden. To give an example, forget-me-nots which normally quickly look pale and washed-our during wet spells, retain good colour when planted in window flower boxes etc. because of the goodand the fact that they can dry out the moment the rain eases.
I always try to position my outdoor containers with care as to the chosen plant’s requirements. Take cacti and succulents — they do best when kept rather on the dry side and will not appreciate a damp, shady situation in the garden. Placing them in shallow pans and bowls suits them and makes an attractive display, particularly in a situation such as on either side of a short flight of steps.
Container plants need feeding, in the same way as those grown in hanging baskets. Use any of the well-known brands of liquid or foliar feed. If any fertiliser other than a liquid is used it is necessary to water the plants before and after applying.
After the end of the first year it pays to replace the compost in window flower boxes and other containers, including baskets. Where permanent plantings of shrubs, perennials, etc., have been made, take out as much compost as possible without disturbing the roots, and replace carefully with fresh compost which has had a little bone-meal stirred into it.